How climate change became local councils’ core business

The federal minister for local government was Bega Valley’s mayor during the Black Summer bushfires. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)
By Stephanie Gardiner June 13 2023 in The Advocate

After the Black Summer bushfires raged through southern NSW, killing four people and destroying hundreds of homes, a flood put out the last smouldering blazes.

Local Government Minister Kristy McBain was the Bega Valley Shire mayor when the disasters struck and saw how climate change became the core business of councils.

“Probably 10 years ago, that wasn’t something that was on every council’s radar,” Ms McBain told the Australian Local Government Association’s regional forum in Canberra on Tuesday.

There were nine disasters declared in the region during her three-and-a-half-year stint as mayor, including floods, fires and a brutal east coast low that knocked out major infrastructure.

Ms McBain told 450 council leaders from across Australia it was frustrating there was no consistent approach to disaster recovery at the time.

She said the federal government was focused on listening to communities and building climate resilience and mitigation through a disaster fund which invests in flood levees, fire breaks and seawalls.

“We know after a community has been through a disaster, what they want most is for governments to listen to them about how they can be better prepared for next time.”

The regional forum is the biggest in the association’s history as growing country areas look for solutions to disaster recovery, digital connectivity, skills shortages and healthcare inequality.

Councils have long been pushing for better funding, including fair increases to financial assistance grants that allow untied local spending.

Though the federal government’s May budget provided $3.1 billion for the grants over the next year, councils want the level of funding restored to one per cent of commonwealth tax revenue.

North Burnett deputy mayor Robbie Radel told Ms McBain the regional Queensland council’s funding was reduced despite having one of the longest road networks in Australia supported by a ratepayer base of 7000.

Mr Radel said the council was considered financially unsustainable and had to shut down swimming pools, libraries and town halls.

“How much more can small regional communities do with reduced funding year after year?”

Ms McBain said her office was reviewing financial assistance legislation.

“We want to make sure that it is equitable, that the money goes to where it needs to go,” she said.

Other council leaders raised concerns about doctor shortages, flood preparedness and pastoral care for Pacific workers in the regions.

Opposition spokesman for local government, Nationals MP Darren Chester, urged councils to celebrate their wins and have their voices heard in Canberra.

“It’s time to harden up,” Mr Chester said.

“You know what your communities want and need and you want those members of parliament to listen to you.

“You’re not in Canberra to make new friends.”

From Wednesday, almost all the nation’s 537 councils will be part of the association’s national general assembly to debate more than 100 motions for change across healthcare, climate and connectivity.

Australian Associated Press

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